Bicycling To Work: A Way to Save Money and Lose Weight

With the weather warming up and the daylight lasting longer I’ve decided to tune up the bike, purchase a helmet and map out a safe route home. My wife will drop me off at work in the mornings with my bicycle and I’ll plan to ride home. Riding to work is not feasible now because I am in such horrible shape it would take me an hour to catch my breath, shower, change, cool down, etc. For now, I’ll stick to riding one way home because there I can collapse in comfort.

Fortunately, my job is only located five miles from home, but those are five miles of traffic-congested roads not particularly safe for the bicycle commuter. I’ve mapped out a route that will make for a longer ride, but offers a safer, residential alternative to crowded city streets. I would rather take a little longer to get home safe and sound. Besides, I could use the exercise.

My initial investment is a bicycle helmet and Cateye bicycle computer (I actually bought the bicycle computer last year, so maybe I can finally get some use out of it). I stay motivated when I see the miles rolling off, and I will make it a personal challenge to increase my mileage on the bike every week. I’m not buying any fancy clothes, just shorts, t-shirts and some comfortable shoes. I know from reading other biking blogs that bicycle shorts and shoes are recommended gear, but since I am not concerned with wind drag or other performance issues, I opt for comfort. Besides, spandex wasn’t designed for us endomorphs!

By eliminating the use of my second vehicle we should save about $50 a month in gas, plus additional wear and tear on my already older vehicle. Add back in some basic maintenance costs for the bike and I should see a realized savings of about $35-40. Assuming I can sustain this routine for nine months out of the year that is an annualized savings of about $300. As an added benefit, I expect to lose a little weight from this routine as well. Over time I may increase the mileage by taking alternate routes home. This should add to the cardio benefits of using my bike to commute from work.

I am so out of shape now that bicycling to work might literally take half a day, and result in my being lathered in sweat. Like all good frugal dads, I have to consider things like safety and the associated expenses to make an educated decision.

First, a look at the benefits of riding a bike to work.

Improve my current level of physical fitness. As I mentioned, I am grossly out of shape and the ride could help me lose some weight and improve my endurance. I am currently using up the remainder of my gym membership by driving to the gym after work and riding an exercise bike. It seems only logical that I could eliminate the gym membership, save on gas and ride the bicycle home for exercise – killing three birds with one stone, so to speak.

  • Potential savings: $30/month gym membership

Less automobile usage costs. I drive an older model vehicle back and forth to work, and it doesn’t require much upkeep outside of general maintenance. In fact, it is driven so little that I have been able to avoid major repair expenses to this point (knocking on wood, emphatically). The only downside? It is a gass guzzler. By carpooling with my wife on the ride to work, and riding my bicycle home I could save quite a bit on gas.

  • Potential savings: $70/month in gasoline

And now a look at some potential drawbacks.

Higher risk of being injured in an accident. I have never been much of a cyclist, but my friends who are tell me drivers are notoriously bad at yielding to bicycles. Obviously, the chances of injury are much higher if you tangle with a car while on a bike, as opposed to riding in a car. Fortunately, about half of my trek would be in low traffic or residential areas. Depending on how I map out my route, almost all of the journey home could be residential, though it may take longer.

  • Potential Cost: Personal injury not easy to estimate.

Equipment upgrades. When I do ride a bike for leisure it is a Walmart bike I bought because of the sturdy frame and comfortable seat. The only upgrades I’ve made are a bicycle computer and small bag that attached to the seat post, just large enough to stow away my cell phone. In the near future, I may take a look at garage sales and/or Craigslist or Ebay to see if anyone has any road bikes for sale in my area. 

When I ride around my neighborhood I opt not to wear a bicycle helmet, but if I decide to venture out in traffic I think a “brain bucket” is probably a good idea. Like most things, helmets can be as fancy or as simple as you are willing to spend. I think I’ll choose the safest, most economical helmet I can find that gets the job done.

  • Potential Cost: $20 upfront cost for bicycle helmet. $20/month maintenance (tires, brakes, grease, etc.).

The elements. Summer usually means severe thunderstorms and downpours without much warning. I will need to keep an eye on the sky around quitting time to make sure bad weather isn’t approaching. If it is I’ll need to make other arrangements to get home – maybe grab a ride from a coworker. I could leave the bike in my office and ride it home the next day.  Or, I could lock it up somewhere safe (it’s a good idea to register your bike with the National Bike Registry in case it is stolen).

  • Potential Cost: $20 upfront cost for rain gear (poncho, waterproof bag, etc.).

It seems like the idea of commuting to and/or from work by bike is a good one. With minimal up-front costs ($40) I could realize a net reduction in my monthly expenses of about $80. The physical benefits of daily riding could also improve my fitness levels, requiring less doctor visits and reduced life insurance premiums (assuming I don’t opt to ride in rush hour traffic). My next step will be to make some test rides over the weekend to plan the route, and make sure I can still ride that far without collapsing. I’ll report back with a final decision.